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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

THE LAST UNIVEHSALIST
*absentmindedness': he frequently forgot his meals and almost
never remembered whether or not he had breakfasted. Perhaps
he did not care to stuff himself as most boys do.
The passion for mathematics seized him at adolescence or
shortly before (when he was about fifteen). From the first he
exhibited a lifelong peculiarity: his mathematics was done in
his head as he paced restlessly about, and was committed to
paper only when all had been thought through. Talking or other
noise never disturbed him while he was working. In later life he
wrote his mathematical memoirs at one dash without looking
back to see what he had written and limiting himself to but a
very few erasures as he wrote, Cayley also composed in this way,
and probably Euler, too. Some of Poincare's work shows the
marks of hasty composition, and he said himself that he never
finished a paper without regretting either its form or its sub-
stance. More than one man who has written well has felt the
same. Poincare's flair for classical studies, hi which he excelled
at school, taught him the importance of both form and
substance.
The Franco-Prussian war broke over France in 1870 when
Poincare was sixteen. Although he was too young and too
frail for active service, Poincare nevertheless got his full
share of the horrors, for Nancy, where he lived, was sub-
merged by the full tide of the invasion, and the young boy
accompanied his physician-father on his rounds of the ambu-
lances. Later he went with Ms mother and sister, under
terrible difficulties, to Arrancy to see what had happened to his
maternal grandparents, in whose spacious country garden
the happiest days of his childhood had been spent during the
long school vacations. Arrancy lay near the battlefield of Saint-
Privat. To reach the town the three had to pass "in glacial cold'
through burned and deserted villages. At last they reached their
destination, only to find that the house had been thoroughly
pillaged, *not only of things of value but of things of no value*,
and in addition had been defiled in the bestial manner made
familiar to the French by the 1914 sequel to 1870. The grand-
parents had been left nothing; their evening meal on the day
they viewed the great purging was supplied by a poor Troaaan
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